These people are comically drawn types, and are wittily, wisely acted: Slapstick Sidney (Steve Erickson) and Sidney (Richard Di Mario), from the paper mill, offer to bring him paper, then sit around waiting for a new Initiative. His friend Bertram (an aggressive Alan Huisman) brings him vitamins and holds forth on everyone's fears that Leopold is only a shell of his former dissident self. The woman who is possibly his wife (Susan Turner, dripping with derision) berates him for cooking livers in the wrong frying pan and nuzzles openly upstage with his friend Edward (Mike Pomp). His lover Lucy (an eerily smiling Helen Brock in red) wants maniacally to save him and be his muse, a demand that is later reprised by his student Marguerite (Kate Quisumbing). And the two faux-jocular government chaps (Betsy Kimball and Cary Wendell) want him to renounce his very identity.

The rhythm of their interruptions and demands, fraught with long pauses, synchronizations, and repetitions, is made even more surreal by Ed Hinton's lighting design, which swoops like the frames of a comic book from bright red to sinister yellow. Helpless and beholden, fearing everything from prison and violence to his reputation and his inability to love, poor Leopold's increasingly subjective world becomes a place of spiraling psychic horror. And Havel's final, darkly ironic twist suggests the greatest fear of the dissident intellectual: Irrelevance.

Megan Grumbling can be reached at mgrumbling@hotmail.com.

LARGO DESOLATO | by Václav Havel; translated by Tom Stoppard | Directed by Peggi McCarthy | Produced by Generic Theater | at the Players' Ring in Portsmouth | through April 17 | 603.436.8123

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